As travel restrictions mount, I’m thinking of all the wonderful and meaningful places I’ve traveled since 1994, and the important cultural and personal relationships that were the focus of these trips.
A lifetime of memories lives in these photos:
Today is the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas. Forty days after Christmas, today is the symbolic day of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, as decreed in the Levitical law.
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Samson is snuggled by my side, gently snoring. He’s feeling better. He did decide one day this week to embrace his achiness and poop on the office carpet upstairs. But I can forgive him for that, and I have.
I went last evening to Powell Hall for a performance of the Sibelius Fifth Symphony by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. My favorite work by Sibelius, it’s a strange concoction of murmurings and shufflings and brassiness and climaxes. And it’s incredibly powerful. I sat with some of my students way up in the gods. ‘Twas a good evening.
Today is a relatively down day, with a couple of lessons, a Mass to sing around sundown, some laundry, and a manicure.
I’m off to Chicago for two days this week, so I’ll likely do some school work today as well, since tomorrow is very full.
I had some time today, so I drove through Camdenton and on out to Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
Windermere is the site of many happy weeks and weekends during my childhood and youth. Some of my earliest memories are of staying in the motel there during various weeks when my father would be involved in youth activities or religious education activities. I recall spending time in the Children’s Building in the morning, playing in the lake in the afternoon, going into the cave, and when I was old enough attending the nightly services and activities in the auditorium.
Church youth group retreats were at Windermere. When I was in college, so were Baptist Student Union weekends.
And a confession: the summer after 6th grade, I attended RA camp at Windermere, and went the entire week without showering, since I really didn’t want to disrobe in front of boys I didn’t know. I recall my mother being dismayed when she found this out at the end of the week.
I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school working at Windermere, as one of about two dozen high-school and college-age students who were the summer dining hall help, lifeguards, boat dock stewards, and in my case, one of four people on a crew to staff the Snack Shack.
That was the summer I discovered Barry Manilow. It was also the summer I realized God’s call on my life to be something other than ordinary.
The auditorium used to have a pipe organ, and from the photos appears still to have. I played that organ almost daily the summer I worked there, and still have some of the music in my repertoire. I also played on Sunday mornings if called on. And when the auditorium got a new sound system that summer, I doubled as the audio guy at conferences in the morning and evening, going back the next summer for a couple of weeks to do the same thing.
During that latter summer, right before college, one of my best friends from high school went with me for the week. We shared a cabin, and I recall one evening telling Mike that I loved him. This was, for me at the time and even now, the first realization of brotherly love so strong it needed voice; this was the first time I told anyone outside of my family that I loved them. Today, driving by that very cabin right by the auditorium, I had a powerful memory come rolling back.
Windermere holds an idyllic (and perhaps romanticized) place in my memory. I recall chilly autumn nights there, and the smell of pine and dying leaves and a full moon. I remember dropping my father’s travel kit from the second floor of the motel (I was seven or so), and the ensuing mess. (He wasn’t happy.) I remember unnameable food in the dining hall, although the food had gotten much better by the time I worked there. And I remember my excitement at the phone call from Art Koehler one Sunday evening in Spring 1978 as he offered me a summer job there.
Since leaving the Baptist church, I’ve been back to Windermere only twice, both times for a drive-through. Today was that second visit. I saw a turkey having his dinner by the side of a road, and I almost hit a deer that ran across the road in front of me as I toured a newly-developed section of the campus.
Much has changed there. But the motel, the children’s building, the auditorium, the deck by the dining hall, the beach — these remain to remind me of a part of my life that is very real and cherished, but will never come again.
God bless Windermere.
PS — I wonder whatever happened to Tommy Johnson, John Baker, Chuck Barry, and others from that dorm where I spent that summer. I’ll likely see Lori at MMEA this weekend. And I occasionally see Dave Walser, the dorm dad from that summer, with whom I performed in the men’s chorus in Saint Louis.
I have arrived at my hotel in Lake Ozark, Missouri, after driving down to the lake today, and then setting up the Webster University Department of Music display in the exhibit area at Missouri Music Educators Association annual conference.
And of course I immediately started running into old friends such as Don Koller, Bill Grace, and Marilyn Rhea from Maryville.
Now at the hotel, I have followed the usual and almost inevitable ritual:
All of this is preceded by opening wide the curtains and letting in natural light. My room faces west here, so I’ve seen a beautiful sunset over the Ozark hills.
This process takes place no matter what country, what city, or how long I may be in the hotel. I think it’s a way to stay organized and perhaps even grounded. Many times I travel with a small travel candle to provide a familiar scent, lighting that candle quickly upon arrival, but this day I have left the candle at home.
Dear friends and family around the world —
As I have every year for nearly 30 years, I write this annual reflection and share it with thanks for your presence (cyber, in-person, by phone, in my thoughts, or any combination thereof) in my life!
The accustomed themes of work, travel, song, and church continue to pervade my life and my thoughts. I am in my fifth year as Chair of the Department of Music at Webster University in Saint Louis. The work has yummy challenges that keep me going and growing. I’m blessed with a fine studio of voice students, and I see the freshmen music theatre majors several times each week for tuition in music theory. (One of life’s great mysteries is how all that has gone before informs all that is now. I have a doctorate in choral conducting, with a research emphasis in British cathedral music, yet I’m teaching music theory for musical theatre students and also teaching musical theatre voice.)
My voice studio on the side includes two Jesuits from Saint Louis University, and a law student from SLU as well! Commencement in May was a teary affair as I said goodbye to the group of students that started with me in 2008. Fortunately, I’ve replaced them with some fine kids this year.
After several years of big changes at school, the changes this year have been less dramatic — a new website, stronger clarity in processes and procedures, better planning for future needs and growth. I’m blessed with fine colleagues, a boss I adore, and the best gift of all in a department associate I trust, respect, and like very much.
Sensing a void in the song-life after leaving the men’s chorus last year, I have returned to singing as a staff singer at The Church of Saint Michael and Saint George in Clayton, arguably the finest church choir in the area. Holy Week and Advent are two especially busy times for us, of course! My parish membership also resides at CSMSG, and I’m seeking to be involved there in more than the choral music.
I was published this year by Kansas City Music Publishing; the group picked up two of my choral works. I’ve composed more this year as well, with a new setting of the Evensong Preces and Responses for Rob and the gang at church, and a setting of John Donne’s “A Hymn to God the Father” for my colleague Trent Patterson and the Concert Choir at school. I’m hoping both will have 2013 premieres. Just this month I have finalized an agreement with a choral group in New York City for a commission they will premiere on Tax Day in April, with my friend and former student Jeffery Thyer conducting.
I’m singing a bit too, with part of a faculty recital this past February, and an oratorio appearance on Good Friday at a large Methodist church in the area.
A research grant from Webster University is funding a new research interest in American operetta. I traveled to NYC in June for eight days of research at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center, taking in six shows while I was there and also catching up with old students. That project will be finished in the first six months of 2013.
I also took some faculty development money to support a trip to London in October where I engaged in research on an oral history of Herbert Howells, also laying groundwork for a summer class I’ll be teaching there in June. (I had the incredible privilege in October of dining with Sir David Willcocks at his home in Cambridge.)
Other trips this year, mostly on school business, included Interlochen in Michigan, Grand Lake in Colorado, Lincoln in Nebraska, Wichita, San Diego, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Montreal for a quick summer vacation.
Also this summer: I caught most of the shows at the Muny and did a good deal of work on the flower beds in the yard, only to have the drought take its toll. And I canned a lot of peach jam, plus some lime pickles.
Aunt Esther turned 100 this year. We had a grand celebration in her hometown, with many cousins in attendance. She is now failing. I’ll see her right after Christmas.
My father is finishing radiation related to cancer surgery he had this autumn. He and JoAnne continue to live in Lee’s Summit, where this week they’ll host the various family Christmas gatherings as we converge from elsewhere in the US. Pop works part-time at the local funeral home; both of them are very active at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit.
My sisters manage somehow to keep families and activities going at full tilt. Beth’s daughter Anna turned 16 this year, so at some point I’m owing her a trip to NYC as a present. Karen’s son Blayne graduated from college this year (which hardly seems possible) and was in short order gainfully employed by the Bolivar (MO) public schools as their IT guy.
Samson the Feist is still the darling of the household. He’s 12 years old, sleeping most of the day, and making others happy when they come to visit.
The new year is shaping up to be very eventful, more of which in another year, I suppose.
Meanwhile, on this chilly early winter morning, I await with others the remembrance of the birth of our Saviour, the one true and eternal Light of this torn and desperate world.
Rejoice in heaven,
all ye that dwell therein
Rejoice on earth, ye saints below
For Christ is coming,
Is coming soon
For Christ is coming soon.
E’en so Lord Jesus quickly come
And night shall be no more
They need no light, no lamp, nor sun
For Christ will be their All!
I’m at the airport in the departure lounge for Southwest Airlines to Albuquerque and thence to Saint Louis. My flight departs in about an hour.
Truth be told, I really don’t want to leave San Diego, such is the utopian and easy feel of this lovely city. Of course I only see the waterfront, the embarcadero, the endless blue sky, the whiff of Pacific out in the distance. And the palm trees.
Saint Louis will be an autumnal brown and gray later today.
But I’m ready to return to teaching, and to contemplate and unpack the many ideas with which I’ve been confronted over the last few days. This has been an intense conference, with provocative, detailed, and mind-scuttling sessions that give me plenty to ponder.
And Thanksgiving is but 48 hours away. I’ll dine with five others at my home for a wonderful meal!